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ABC's 'The Middle' carries the working-class banner alone

In fall 2009, barely a year into the Great Recession, two new family sitcoms aired back-to-back on Wednesdays: "The Middle" and "Modern Family."

Filmed in a quasi-mockumentary style, "Modern Family" followed three affluent, interrelated families in suburban Los Angeles, including a gay couple with an adopted daughter from Vietnam. Praised for its diversity, it was anointed the best new sitcom on television, became a ratings smash for ABC and has gotten 77 Emmy nominations.

At least superficially, "The Middle" was less groundbreaking. Created by DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler, it centered on the Hecks, an intentionally unremarkable lower-middle-class family living in the small town of Orson, Ind., proud home of the world's largest polyurethane cow.

Dad Mike (Neil Flynn) is a taciturn quarry manager who later launches a diaper business. Mom Frankie (Patricia Heaton) sells cars  or tries to  before studying to become a dental hygienist. They have three kids who aren't particularly bright, cool or attractive, epitomized by middle child Sue (the exceptional Eden Sher), whose most distinctive trait is her insistence on never giving up, despite being pretty bad at most things she tries.

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